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Britain’s First Olympic Champion

Launceston Elliot was a versatile athlete who took part in no less than five events at the inaugural modern Olympic Games held in Athens in 1896, becoming Britain’s first Olympic champion. He had a magnificent physique and was described as: ‘the most handsome man of his generation.’

His father, Gilbert Elliot, was a magistrate related to the Earls of Minto, who were known for their distinguished service in India, and Launceston was born in India on 9 June 1874. While Gilbert was staying in a hotel in Launceston, Tasmania, his first wife fell to her death from a nba중계 balcony, apparently under suspicious circumstances, and Gilbert married the hotel receptionist, Ann, who was of Scottish descent. Launceston was a product of this marriage, and he was said to have been named after the town where he was conceived. After spending part of his early childhood in Australia, he saw his true homeland for the first time in 1887 when his father began farming in rural Essex.

He became interested in bodybuilding and attended the school of Eugene Sandow (1867-1925), the respected professional strongman and exponent of physical culture, where he was introduced to the sport of weightlifting. Sandow was a man of thoughtful views who advocated moderation in all methods of health. Under his expert guidance Elliot was taught to recognize the advantages of acquired muscular power by a system of movements over basic brute strength. Elliot was a good pupil, and at the age of only 16 he gave a good account of himself at the first weightlifting championships open to competitors from all over the world, which were held at the Cafe Monaco on Piccadilly in London, on 28 March 1891. The competition lasted three days, during which time each man attempted ten lifts consisting mainly of repetition or alternate pressing of 56-pound and 84-pound weights with each hand. The contest was won by Edward Lawrence ‘E L’ Levy (1851-1932) of Birmingham. Elliot won his first title in 1894.

The Olympic Games were held in ancient Greece for twelve centuries, until AD 393 when they were abolished by the Emperor Theodosius and the great stadium at Olympia was allowed to crumble into ruin. Britain was highly influential in the movement towards an Olympic revival. The Cotswold Olympic Games were started by Robert Dover in 1636, continuing for 200 years, and in 1850 Doctor Penny Brooke founded an Olympic Society at Much Wenlock in Shropshire. Many new sports were being devised and established in Victorian England, and this ‘golden age’ of sport put an idea in the head of a French nobleman called Baron Pierre de Coubertin, an adviser on physical culture to his government, who was becoming concerned about the advance of commercialism in sport. When he visited England he was impressed with the stature of games played purely for recreational purposes at public schools, and he admired the spirit of internationalism shown by Doctor Brooke when he met him on a visit to Much Wenlock. He was determined to revive the Olympic Games as a way to bring young people together to take part in friendly competition.

De Coubertin worked with untiring energy to organise an International Sports Congress, and his efforts were rewarded in Paris on 23 June 1894, when he chaired a meeting of 285 representatives from 13 nations, and a further 21 countries pledged their support. From this meeting the International Olympic Committee came into being. It was decided to hold the Games every four years, London being the initial choice for the first venue. However, de Coubertin wanted to stage the inaugural Games to coincide with the forthcoming Paris World Fair scheduled for 1900. However, enthusiasm was such that an earlier date was demanded, and Greek delegates put in a plea based on tradition for the Games to be held in Athens. The request was accepted, and the first modern Olympic Games were staged in April 1896, at the stadium where its ancient predecessor had met its demise.

Lawrence Levy had been involved in the Olympic Movement, and it was probably due to his influence that Elliot decided to sail to Athens from Marseilles aboard the ‘SS Congo’. His magnificent appearance caused quite a stir when he arrived in the Greek capital. The official report of the 1896 Olympic Games states: ‘This young man attracted universal admiration by his uncommon beauty. He was of impressive stature, tall, well-proportioned, his hair and complexion of surprising fairness.’ He most certainly appealed to the Greeks, especially the females, and an Athens newspaper was prompted to report: ‘His handsome figure procured for him an offer of marriage from a highly-placed lady admirer.’

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